The Sketch: A bean-counting pen-pusher: just the thing to rally troops


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The Independent Online

Here's a suitability test you might try: if you'd been killed in action on some lonely hillside by a 10-rupee jezail – would you, looking down, be happy to have Philip Hammond conducting your obsequies? Or would you prefer someone with just a flash of colour, warmth, common humanity? Someone who wouldn't refer to "the reconciliation and reintegration process" of getting a diverse, inclusive government in ungovernable Afghanistan.

For some reason, the Minister of Defence is usually a construction in grey. The colourful John Profumo, if you remember, was Minister of War. Liam Fox has been the only recent exception and that didn't end so well, except for Philip Hammond and his new PPS, Claire Perry, diva of the Pony Club.

What did we get? Mr Hammond showed us his ability to absorb a brief and inability to muster grace enough to praise his predecessor. Labour's Jim Murphy did that for the House, and with a certain wintry warmth from his Caledonian heights. What a decent fellow he is, so everyone says.

Hammond has been parachuted into hostile territory, judging by the expressions his team adopted. Gerald Howarth and Andrew Robathan – I'm sure they won't mind my saying – looked like toothless hags below a guillotine. Either must have felt himself better equipped to direct operations than this desk-driving, bean-counting, pen-pushing, paper-shuffling, rump-covering civilian. The back bench noted the minister's omission and they didn't like it. Bernard Jenkin thanked the Labour spokesman for his tribute and you could feel Hammond stinging from it. Good manners being the most painful tools in the Theatre of Cruelty we know as the House of Commons.

He made as good a job as anyone could spinning the old lines about leaving behind a strong and inclusive government and an Afghanised security service (which presumably means one that will tear the eyeballs out of enemies with hot pliers).

And we're going to recapitalise Afghanistan's central bank. I didn't realise we had enough camels.

Sir Peter Tapsell made the point with his usual elegance. "Historians of the future will record our 10-year involvement as the greatest fiasco since the two Afghan wars of the 19th century." When Hammond says "I think we know from history", he might be recommended a different history book.